How Does Fast Food Affect Children’s Health?

Are Fast Foods Killing Our Kids?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

How does fast food affect children’s health?

how does fast food affect children's healthFast foods are everywhere. They are advertised on radio, TV, and the internet. Our kids crave them. Busy moms rely on them as they ferry their children to all their different activities.

Fast food restaurants surround every school. Fast foods are even on the lunch menu at many schools.

It’s no wonder that one third of US children eat fast foods every day. What are the consequences of this fast food consumption? Previous studies have shown that fast food consumption is associated with obesity and diabetes in teens.

But, what about younger children? We know that obesity and diabetes is on the rise among younger children, but nobody has looked at the health consequences of fast food consumption in younger children – until now. The study I will talk about today was designed to look at the association between fast food consumption and risk markers for obesity, heart disease, and diabetes in children who were only 9-10 years old.

 

How Was The Study Done?

how does fast food affect children's health kidsThis study (AG Donin et al, Archives of Disease in Childhood, 103: 431-436, 2018) was actually performed in England where the consumption of fast foods (They call them takeaway meals) is not quite as pervasive as it is in the US. But, fast food consumption is increasing rapidly. According to the authors, fast food consumption had increased by more than 25% between 1996 and 2006 and is continuing to increase.

This study was part of a larger Child Heart And Health Study in England (CHASE), which was designed to measure markers of heart disease and diabetes in a multiethnic population of children aged 9-10 years. The study enrolled 1948 primary school children in grade 5 from 85 primary schools across London, Birmingham, and Leicester.

The students were asked about their eating patterns by trained dietitians. Memory cues were used to add recall and photographs were used to help them estimate portion sizes. Fast food consumption broke down as follows:

  • 26% of the children never or hardly ever consumed fast food meals.
  • 46% of the children consumed fast food meals less than once a week.
  • 28% of the children consumed fast food meals once a week or more.

 

How Does Fast Food Affect Children’s Health

 

how does fast food affect children's health junk foodWhen the investigators compared data from the children consuming one or more fast food meals a week with the data from children who never or hardly ever ate fast food meals:

#1: Diet quality was poorer:

  • Total calories consumed, fat, saturate fat, and caloric density of foods consumed were all significantly higher.
  • Consumption of complex carbohydrates and protein was significantly less. In contrast, sugar consumption was unchanged.
  • Intakes of vitamin C, iron, calcium, and folate were significantly less.

#2: Markers of health outcomes were poorer:

  • Fat mass and skinfold thickness (a measure of obesity) were significantly greater.
  • Total and LDL cholesterol were significantly higher. The authors estimated that if these levels were maintained over a lifetime, long-term cardiovascular risk would be increased by approximately 10%.

The authors concluded:

  • “Our study suggests that children who regularly eat takeaway (fast food) meals have adverse lipid profiles, higher body fat, and poorer diet quality.
  • Efforts to reduce takeaway meal consumption in children could have both short-term and long-term health benefits.”

 

What Does This Study Mean For You?

So, how does fast food affect children’s health?  This study is consistent with multiple other studies looking at the effect of consumption of fast food meals on diet quality, obesity, and markers of future disease outcomes in teens and young adults. This study simply showed that the adverse effects of fast food meals are apparent even in younger children.

how does fast food affect children's health fatClearly, fast foods should be avoided. One needs to go no further than the film “Supersize Me” to understand the dangers of excessive fast food consumption.

But, fast foods are just the tip of the iceberg. This study did not look at fast foods purchased by the parents and eaten at home. Nor did it look at sodas, junk foods, and convenience foods consumed at home.

Finally, while things are probably changing, the English diet, like the American diet, is not known as a particularly healthy diet. In fact, both English and American diets are the worst of all possible worlds. They are high in fat, saturated fat, sugars, and refined carbohydrates. They are meat heavy and light on fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Eliminating fast foods from your child’s diet is just the first step towards a healthy diet. We should be focusing on a holistic approach to a healthier diet, such as I have outlined in my book “Slaying The Food Myths.”

 

The Bottom Line:

A recent study looked at the effect of fast food consumption on diet quality, obesity, and markers of disease risk in English schoolchildren ages 9-10 years. When the investigators compared data from the children consuming one or more fast food meals a week with the data from children who never or hardly ever ate fast food meals:

#1: Diet quality was poorer:

  • Total calories consumed, fat, saturate fat, and caloric density of foods consumed were all significantly higher.
  • Consumption of complex carbohydrates and protein was significantly less. In contrast, sugar consumption was unchanged.
  • Intakes of vitamin C, iron, calcium, and folate were significantly less.

#2: Markers of health outcomes were poorer:

  • Fat mass and skinfold thickness (a measure of obesity) were significantly greater.
  • Total and LDL cholesterol were significantly higher. The authors estimated that if these levels were maintained over a lifetime, long-term cardiovascular risk would be increased by approximately 10%.

Clearly, fast foods are to be avoided. But, eliminating fast foods from your child’s diet is just the first step towards a healthy diet. We should be focusing on a holistic approach to a healthier diet, such as I have outlined in my book “Slaying The Food Myths.”

For more details, read the article above:

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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